The Astros have had their fair share of shuffling in the outfield this season. Through just 34 games this season, we have seen nine different outfielders play in the outfield. Some are still on the team, and some have been let go. Let’s take a look at their production up-to-date, and see how the Astros should play their cards the rest of the year.
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As you can see, the Astros outfielders haven’t exactly been hitting the ball for average, or done a great job getting on base early in the year. Justin Maxwell, 29, was supposed to get the lions share of at-bats this year until he broke his hand a few weeks ago. Maxwell had a tough April, and should be back within a few more weeks. Joining him on the opening day roster were both Rick Ankiel and Fernando Martinez (though on the DL). Both Ankiel and F-Mart have been DFA’d since then. Ankiel was known to be a very good guy in the clubhouse, but he did not do enough hitting, instead striking out in 56.5% of his at-bats. The Astros decided F-mart wasn’t worth keeping on the roster with his lack of hitting, and I’m sure they hope he won’t be claimed on waivers, so they can send him back to OKC.
With Ankiel and F-Mart gone, the Astros called up Jimmy Paredes and Trevor Crowe. As far as Crowe goes, he will likely be the Astros 5th outfielder and late-game defensive replacement. Crowe hit well at OKC (.307/.402.421), and showed off his good speed as well (11 SB). Crowe will likely stick on the roster for now, but could be sent back down once Justin Maxwell is ready. Along with Crowe, Paredes was mashing the ball at OKC (.366/.433/.580), and earned his call-up just a few days ago. The 24-year old has a lot to prove, and this is his big shot in the majors. Some people compare Paredes to a poor-man’s Ben Zobrist, and I’m sure the Astros would be ecstatic with that type of production.
Along with those outfielders, the Astros also have Brandon Barnes, Chris Carter, and J.D. Martinez. Barnes, 26, has had a great year so far, and the Astros will try to give him as much playing time as possible. Martinez, 25, has had success at the MLB level before, and the Astros hope he can still be a part of their future. Carter, 26, has had time in the outfield this year, but seems to be better suited at either first base or DH. Carter has brought the power to the Astros lineup with his team-leading eight home runs, but has had problems with strikeouts (as seen in the chart).
The last outfielder yet to be mentioned is Robbie Grossman. Grossman, 23, has received most of the at-bats in center field since the Maxwell injury. Grossman has done a solid job in his 55 at-bats this season. Some people believe Grossman can roam center field over the next few years, though they may be a bit too optimistic. Grossman has shown the ability to be patient, with his six walks (in 66 PA’s) on the year, but needs to do a better job of hitting for average if he wants to stay atop the order. His defense has been pretty good up-to-date, but he doesn’t have a great arm. Grossman will really need to play well over the next month, so he can secure his spot on the Astros.
So what should the Astros do with their surplus of solid outfielders? The first thing that comes to mind, is putting Chris Carter at either first base or DH. Carter hasn’t looked too good in the outfield, and with Wallace at OKC, Carter’s bat can stay in the lineup at either first base or DH. As far as the next few weeks go, I’d like to see an outfield with both Robbie Grossman in center field, and Jimmy Paredes at right field on an everyday basis. In left field, I’d like to see Martinez and Barnes in some sort of platoon. Trevor Crowe should be the 5th outfielder, defensive replacement, and pinch runner. This should give fans some excitement with the youth in the lineup, and gives us a glimpse of what may be ahead.
However, the Astros will have a “problem” once Maxwell comes back. Maxwell is a veteran, earned his playing time last year, and may have some trade value come July. With that being said, Maxwell should be put in center field once healthy. The Astros should let Maxwell build up as much value as he can, and try and ship him for a small prospect in July. This year is still about rebuilding, and any possible future piece you can receive for a veteran, is a positive for the franchise. When Maxwell starts, the Astros should still play Grossman and Paredes everyday. With those three starting everyday, the Astros would then move Martinez and Barnes to bench roles, and send down Crowe.
It’s clear the Astros have a surplus of solid young outfielders, and it will be tough to get them all consistent playing time. Besides the names already mentioned, the Astros also have Marc Krauss at OKC. Krauss has been destroying the ball, hitting .306 with 7 home runs, 20 walks, and a 1.027 OPS. Krauss is another power bat the Astros could use, and plays right field. The Astros should call him up soon, and it may be at the expense of an outfielder who may not deserve a demotion.
The Astros will have to use a lot of different ways to get their youngsters in the lineup. They can give Matt Dominguez a few days off, and let Paredes play third base. They can put Carter at first base, give Pena a day off, and let one of the outfielders play DH. Whatever the outfield situation for the rest of the year, Bo Porter will have to do a lot of lineup shuffling to give his outfielders the appropriate playing time. Once the trade deadline passes and the necessary call-ups have been made, the Astros will have a better idea of their future outfield.